Alzheimer’s disease affects thousands of elderly individuals worldwide and can eventually lead to a severe loss of mental ability that leaves the sufferer incapable of living independently.
Worldwide, extensive research is being carried out to try and find improved techniques that can help diagnose the condition early. The drugs that are currently available and those that are still in development have a much better chance of working when Alzheimer’s is caught in the initial stages, before symptoms have worsened and started to disrupt day-to-day life.
There are also several clinical trials currently taking place into new medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s disease, those who have developed early signs of memory loss or cognitive impairment and even healthy individuals can all choose to become part of these clinical trials. The United States Food and Drug Administration has a strict set of guidelines to control and regulate these trials.
Several trials are testing new drugs that can help cure or at least slow the progression of this degenerative disorder. One main area of this research is the targeting of the underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s. Ways in which researchers are doing this include reducing the beta-amyloid protein that accumulates in the brain and vaccination against this protein. Experts are looking at how to train the immune system to recognize and attack beta-amyloid so that it fails to be deposited in the brain.
An antibody identical to the naturally occurring anti-amyloid antibody has been developed and is referred to as bapineuzumab. The neuroprotective drug AL-108 is being investigated, as well as an agent that prevents metal–protein interaction, referred to as PBT2.
The herpes simplex virus has also been found present in the same locations where amyloid plaques form, and researchers are looking at the effects of treating Alzheimer’s disease sufferers with antiviral agents.
An imaging agent called florbetapir has also been shown to detect the presence of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, but further research is required before it can be made commercially available.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc